Monday, October 25, 2010

The Bellflower Sisters

Adria Bellflower (Campanula portenschlagiana)

Adria Bellflower

Before I tell you about the Bellflower sisters, I want to answer two questions posed to me recently about hogweed. The first is: "How tall is hogweed?" Well, judging from a particularly nice specimen that's still blooming just down the hill from St. Michael's in Pennington, hogweed is about 3-4 feet tall. It occurs to me that it's a bit odd this one is still with us; most have passed by this time of year.

The second question is a bit more interesting and was asked by one of my American friends: "Is hogweed related to Queen Anne's Lace?"

I'll confess. My first response was a horrified and blunt "Good God, NO". How could hogweed possibly be related to anything delicately called "Queen Anne's Lace"? Ridiculous! But, alas, and with all due respect to the Royal Family, my gut reaction was wrong.

I'm almost certain that my American friend was referring to wild carrot (Daucus carota). Here in England "Queen Anne's Lace" often refers (I believe) to cow parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris). Hogweed, as we now know, is a common name for Heracleum sphondylium. Despite having completely different genus/species names, all three plants are found in the same family: Umbelliferae (think "umbrella"). This all goes to show that you can choose your friends but you can't choose your family.

Trailing Bellflower (Campanula poscharskyana)

Trailing Bellflower

Now, on to the Bellflowers. The two sisters I have in mind I see quite often and both grow in (which I consider to be) inhospitable and unlikely places. The first is Trailing Bellflower which I find right outside my back door growing wildly in the crack along the cement. It's light blue-purple in color and while the flower is pretty, the foliage is like bad hair. There's just too much of it and I find it so hard to control that around mid-summer I hack at it with a pair of scissors. Of course, with the foliage go the flowers but it all comes back and now, almost November, it's still blooming.

Adria Bellflower is (in my opinion) the prettier sister with its deep purple petals. The photo leading off this article is of a lovely Adria that grows from a crevice my neighbor's stone wall. The sight never fails to amaze me. Somehow, seeing flowers take root and flourish in a wall of rocks is something that will always delight me. John Presland has a website dedicated to the flora of stone walls and I highly recommend it for further reading.

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